Bosman's Bush Telegraph - 26 July 2000
You will never believe it but we are all set to start our Kilimanjaro climb. We leave tomorrow for six supposedly unforgettable days and five totally freezing nights on the highest mountain in Africa. Kili is apparently the 7th highest mountain in the world and the highest free standing one. I am totally petrified! Nev and I have taken to calling it "the hill", hoping that this will dispel some of the mystery surrounding it. No chance of that, I'm afraid! To make matters worse we haven't seen it yet as the weather has been so foul that the mountain has been obscured by the most ominous swirling mist and cloud. Its probably better that we haven't actually caught sight of the beast yet as I may well have chickened out. By all accounts it should be an expedition of Everest like proportions. The climb will be lead by our guide, Exalt (don't ask) and we will be accompanied by four or five porters. The guide requires a porter, at our cost of course, and the remaining three will carry our bags and all the rest of the paraphernalia. The porters do all the cooking and we have been promised that the food will be of hotel standard. We will wait and see before we pass judgement on that score! Of course, the guides and porters speak little or no English so, once again, small talk will be painful but I am sure that our Swahili will have improved dramatically by the end of the trip.
Nev and I opted for the Marangu route which is also called the "tourist" or "coca cola" route rather than the Machame or "whiskey" route. Our choice was motivated by various factors including the fact that the Marangu route is easier, you sleep in heated huts at night (as opposed to tents) and it is considerably cheaper. I hope that none of you will think less of us because we chose the soft option! Although, I suspect that neither option is really easy. I am sure that, either way, getting to Uhuru peak at 5895 m is going to be a real bugger. Think of us on Saturday night which is what the tour operator ostentatiously calls "summit night". We will be getting up at 23h00 and hiking 6 hours in the dark through the snow with our head torches to Gilman's point where we will watch the sunrise. We will then push on for another two hours to Uhuru peak before we start our journey back to the hut. All in all we will be expected to hike for about 16 hours! I can't wait. The temperature promises to be anywhere between -10 and -30 degrees centigrade. Lovely. Aside from the obvious pain of hiking for six days the real risk involved in Kili climbing would seem to be altitude sickness. There seem to be no hard and fast rules about who gets altitude sickness but it would seem more prevalent in fit, young males. Luckily demographics exclude me from this group and Nev and I have given ourselves the best possible chance of not getting it by keeping our fitness levels as low as possible. It would seem that the slower you walk the less likely you are to get altitude sickness which suits me fine being a slow coach, couch potato and self confessed soapie addict.
Aside from the big Kili news, our adventures in Tanzania have been rather uneventful save for our mammoth battle with the Tanzanian Revenue Authority. When we arrived in Tanzania we had to pay US$25-00 road tax which we were told was valid for one week only and would have to be renewed thereafter upon payment of another US$20-00. At the time we thought that this was a bit steep but the official assured us that it was correct. When we arrived in Dar we met some expats who assured us that we had been well and truly had and that for US$25-00, our road tax should have been valid for a month. They all recommended that we simply change the date on the permit ourselves and extend the time period. Nev and I were sceptical. After all we are recently qualified attorneys with impeccable ethics. We did not think that we could forge the permit in good conscience. Instead, we decided to take it up with the revenue authorities. The expats hooted with laughter and were convinced that we were a totally naive, wet behind the ears lot of travellers and that we would have no success in convincing Revenue of the error. They were convinced that it would just be an exercise in frustration and a huge waste of time. The process was time consuming, I must admit, as we had to explain the situation to a dozen officials before we were finally referred to the chief legal officer. She was at least someone who understood the law and, after debating the finer points of the regulations with her, she had to admit that we were right and that a mistake had been made. The upshot of this was that she prepared a letter for us that we could show to any traffic cops who might stop us explaining that our road tax permit was in fact valid. To top it all we even got a written letter of apology from the Tanzanian Revenue Authority for any inconvenience that we had been caused. Take that! Nev and I felt like we had won a major legal victory and were happy to flaunt our letter under the noses of the cynical expats. They were totally amazed that the system does in fact work and could not believe that we had got the correct result without having to resort to forgery. Perhaps it was just a fluke but we certainly felt quite chuffed with ourselves.
Anyway, hope you are all well. Wish us luck for the mountain.
lots of love
Penny & Neville